Mitali Vaidya is Mum to four year-old Tanmay. She lives in Mumbai and where she works with RDI consultant Carol Subramani.
Our lives changed when my son was two years old – Autism took centre stage. We followed the prescribed route: intensive ABA, speech & OT. I was longing to see the genuine twinkle of excitement in his eyes, and the warm smile that lit up his face when we interacted. By the time he was three, he experienced no joy, connection or engagement with us – he was our “escape artist”, anxious to get away as soon as he could from our barrage of demands. We wanted him to look up to us for guidance rather than look away. We were fed up of teaching him in the same static method.
The nagging question that troubled me was, “How much could I teach that would be enough in this dynamic world?” When would he learn to LEARN, to monitor his environment, to recognize and adapt to the requirements of his surroundings? And most importantly, when would he have the joy of learning and accomplishment?
He had just turned three when we started RDI, and finally received answers to many of our questions. Initially, we STRUGGLED to understand what to do and how to do it…..now, a year into it, we are still learning and have realistic hope.
Letting go of the target -setting and information-stuffing
Moving to a more experience-sharing interaction was a major leap of faith for us and a welcome, rejuvenating change for our son. Every new objective that we worked on together, shed new light on various RDI principles, such as: the importance of the pause, the slow pace, the trust that we put in him, the relaxed atmosphere that optimized the interaction, the ‘just-right’ challenge that spiced up the activity and boosted up his feeling of competence, etc. Not to mention the lack of all these that watered down his interest and participation in what we were doing.
We learnt from our mistakes and he benefited from our learning. As we mulled over each objective, we were continually realizing the innumerable opportunities that even a routine day offered, as a back drop for the kind of learning we knew our son needed to succeed in this dynamic world.
We are parents and guides to our son, no longer instructors or therapists. Our pauses tell him ‘we believe in his capability to do it, yet we are there to help if it’s too much at the moment’. He also rewards us with his meaningful gazes of acknowledgement, smiles of competence, the joy of co-operation & participation. The pauses let us marvel at how much he is able to accomplish with his own thinking, and each such episode gives him more confidence for the next.
Giving him responsibilities and defined roles he can be competent in, has helped make him more aware of his surroundings and more alert to the clues he receives from them. Many a time, he has surprised us with his actions based on his earlier experiences, and observation, when we had not expected him to.
Each new day begins with the excitement of what we are to share today, and the effort to keep ‘target-orientedness’ at bay. As well as to curb the greed to present challenges – overwhelming in either their number or complexity. It’s fun to find new ways to make similar activities more dynamic, provide new responsibilities, and it’s a delight to see him progress in his motor capabilities, his cognition and learning from experience. But we have to strive to subdue the impulses to help him at every juncture and watch with amazement as he unravels his own potential step-by-small step. His level of engagement with us, his connection with the activity is like a meter for us to know if we are in sync with him. Given the right conditions we have found him much more open to our suggestions and eager to interact, rather than stay away. So if things are not going well, we have learnt to look within ourselves to mend things. We are more focused on what he can and will be able to do rather than what he cannot do.
As we foray into this exciting arena of Mindful Parenting, it’s difficult, different, and much more deliberate as compared to other ways; but it is equally delightful.
We have always had the best response when all the GPR (Guided Participation Relationship) aspects have been in place. We have had our most pleasant surprises when we were least expecting or demanding them. The pauses and gentle encouragement has been much more rewarding than hours of slogging together with instructions and prompts.
My son does not speak yet but our primary and stinging worry about lack of speech takes a back seat. He has myriad ways in which he communicates: wonderful shared gazes, meaningful warm smiles, attempted gestures, budding facial expressions, and his growing understanding of our spoken as well as unspoken (non-verbal communication) words. We have begun to enjoy his individuality as a whole rather than judging his intellect from the words he speaks, the objects he points to or commands he obeys.
Together we have celebrated the various FIRSTS: The first time he followed our gaze, searched for information from our faces, looked back when unsure, shared his joy at finding something, referenced us when he met a stranger, made a little gesture for asking for help, imitated willingly, was happy to see his dad come home, initiated an interaction, tried to continue a game, smiled back when he smiled at him, expressed his love by coming close and giving me a hug, communicated that he did not want a particular thing, solved a problem on his own, tried again after the first attempt failed, etc. The list has just begun.
As I am signing off, I can hear a lot of chirping in the birdie’s nest outside. The mom is teaching her nestlings to fly, one of their life’s most crucial lessons. No words, no letters, no sheets, just modelling and gentle encouragement and reassurance….lots of GPR. I wish the little birdie and his mom lots of joy and success as I go back to my little one for our own flying lessons.